In recent weeks I seem to have lost my compass. In a modern capitalist culture where time is money and passion is the fuel of purpose, the losing of one’s compass is a dreadful thing. My rudder works fine, but it is in a submissive, unidirectional position at this stage, evoked by nothing, surrendered to the billowing to take me somewhere – I am not sure where. I used to know. It’s depressing.
Depending on which quarter of SAICE one engages, most of us are in a constant state of grumpy. Consultants, like the contractors, complain of no work, not enough work or too much work. They nag also about how they find one another incompetent and tedious. In turn, public sector civil engineering practitioners whinge about consultants and contractors ripping them off. Civil engineering academics are also in on the action. They have a long tirade on ECSA’s requirements for being academics, their viability for and lack of aspirations to register as professionals, and that students are “… not what they used to be.” They even protest about students studying only to pass exams.
Graduates grumble about ineffectual mentoring, supervision and coaching by seniors, while seniors moan that they were better prepared to enter the workplace than their younger counterparts. Graduates are expected to hit the ground running. And everyone is peeved about uninformed clients and misguided politicians incompetently leading our industry. Quite frankly, the politicians are not going to change for a long time – perhaps we should start governing ourselves like the medical and legal professions.
We should make the best of a bad situation and provide everyone with rotten tomatoes and hire the bullring for a weekend.
But I must honour the students – despite civil engineering students being at the bottom of the civil engineering food chain, they are a source of motivation and inspiration. They fork out the money required to solicit tertiary education, deal with the system of university education, write tests, assignments and exams, attend tutorials and mind-numbing lab sessions and practicals – if the system fails them, the system does not account to them.
Lest I be accused of being cantankerous, let me make my case. Let’s take the procurement, supply chain, price discounting and tendering fiascos that plague our industry as an example. We have been privy to every angle and version of criticism this charade could summon. We all agree – the billions of rands’ worth of time lost on tendering and scouting for work should be spent on doing actual productive work that achieves the outcomes of the NDP. Civil engineering, according to the Department of Higher Education and Training, and the Department of Labour, is a scarce skill after all. But we as a united engineering community are yet to advance a plausible, workable alternative to the revolting tendering system to Treasury for consideration. The roster system is not such an alternative, as it prevents new entrants into the infrastructure engineering market. Does anyone have a solution to this outrage that does not involve whinging, but aids to transformation and job creation? If not, let’s just get on with it then, and tender for work like the rest of the market.
The real obstruction is this – as civil engineering practitioners we pride ourselves on being obsessed with problem-solving, and this, too, is the message we disseminate to the fledglings of our profession, the students, who will enter our industry like honest, sincere hopefuls for a better future profession. But, in relation to the example above, we are unable to resolve the undercutting and price discounting (sometimes to the tune of 80%) that is bringing our profession into disrepute and shame. We are unable to resolve this matter despite organised professional bodies like SAICE, CESA, SAFCEC, MISA and ECSA.
We seem to have lost our compass. In a modern capitalist culture where time is money and passion is the fuel of purpose, the losing of one’s compass is a dreadful thing. Our rudder works fine, but it is in a submissive, unidirectional position at this stage, evoked by nothing, surrendered to the billowing to take us somewhere. We are not sure where – we used to know. It’s depressing.
Help me – let’s take our profession back. I can still imagine no prouder vocation than to be a civil engineer.